Depeche Mode: Singles Box, Volumes 1-6

Depeche Mode
Singles Box, Volumes 1-6

In certain, currently unfashionable, possibly homophobic, and occasionally correct strains of critical thought, Depeche Mode is a risibly pretentious, embarrassingly dreary, mysteriously protracted joke--the kings, or queens (hardy har har), of what rock writer Jim Farber once called "robot-pop product." In another corner, anti-rockists and history-minded dance connoisseurs casually admire or actively celebrate DM for being kings or queens of robot-pop product. That debate is irrelevant to the group's impressively loyal fans, some of whom will spend $250 for all six of these handsomely boxed collections of previously released singles. To the faithful, Depeche Mode are simply the greatest men to ever live--largely because, unlike relative Pollyannas such as Eeyore and Sylvia Plath, DM understand what it's like to be really, really, really sad.

Singles boxes one through three were first issued in 1991 and are now being reissued with volumes four through six to celebrate over 20 years of spendthrift Depeche Mode completists. Each CD single--there are 36 in all--comes with the original remixes and B-sides, plus, in some cases, five more remixes and B-sides that sound like D-sides. (Who, besides Alan Wilder's mum, would want to hear Alan Wilder's version of the Moonlight Sonata?) Exhaustive and exhausting, the three dozen singles make a convincing if long-winded case in favor of the group's oeuvre, which began with Vince Clarke's early-'80s bubble-machine gems, hit and missed (take the ballads--please!) while Martin Gore found his mope-pop métier, and peaked with the string of singles ("Personal Jesus," "Policy of Truth," "Enjoy the Silence") from Violator, the band's inspired international smash from 1990.

Of course, for all but diehards, DM's greatest-hits packages (1998's The Singles 81>85 and The Singles 86>98) should cover this stuff just fine. Some of the extras here, though, are pretty fun, even illuminating. The Teutonic-East Indian miscegenation of the "metal mix" of 1984's "Something to Do," for instance, now sounds like the happy juncture of Kraftwerk, "Get Ur Freak On," and a busy keyboard showroom on Take Your Child to Guitar Center day. And while boxes five and six show the group in decline, the coolness and inventiveness of the celebrity-DJ remixes often seem in direct proportion to the suckiness and redundancy of the material.

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